Colic is a disruption of the normal digestive processes in a horse. Some cases are mild and other cases can be so severe that it results in death. There are two types of colic that are common in horses, and each has different causes. Knowing what causes colic, and how to treat it if it occurs, can help horse owners avert disaster.
Increased Activity Colic
Increased activity colic is also known as hyperperistalsis. This type of colic is often associated with loud stomach rumblings and diarrhea. The following can trigger increased activity colic: intestinal parasites, moldy hay, moldy grain, heat cycles and pregnancy
Horses always need to have access to fresh hay and grains. It is always better to take a horse off of their supplemental grain than to feed them moldy or contaminated feed. In addition to colic, feeding an animal moldy hay may contribute to a severe respiratory condition known as heaves.
Decreased Activity Colic
Decreased activity colic or hypoperistalsis is usually associated with animals appearing to be in severe pain with little or no rumbling sounds from their stomach. This type of colic is often caused by the impact of feed or foreign substances in the intestines. The following can trigger decreased activity colic: intestinal parasites, drastic change in type of feed, feeding an animal too much grain, allowing the animal to drink too much water when overheated, feeding grain to an over-exhausted animal, ingestion of a foreign substance, such as sand and inability to properly chew feed before swallowing (this is caused by a dental problem).
Careful monitoring of horses can help to avert some of these problems, such as being not allowing animals to eat directly off of a dirt floor and noticing when they aren't chewing properly. For example, an animal with dental problems will drop their grain all over the floor when attempting to chew it.
It is important to watch horses for signs of any problems each day. Some individuals watch them at feeding times, while others make a point to carefully watch them after they've been exercised. These are the times when animals may be most likely to show signs of distress.
Colic symptoms include the following: frequent gas, loud stomach rumblings, kicking at the stomach, looking back at the stomach, pawing at the ground, restless behavior, groaning, laying on the ground in unusual positions, constant changing of weight on the hind legs, yawning, constant jaw movement (as if eating), rapid heartbeat and bright red eyelids.
All animals behave differently when in distress. A horse may exhibit a few of the colic symptoms or many of them simultaneously.
Unless you have previous experience with colic, it is always advisable to call a vet as soon as you suspect colic. An animal with severe colic could potentially die if not treated quickly. Do not feed the animal anything unless advised to do so by a vet. While some horse owners with experience may feed colicky horses a bran mash with aspirin, administering any medication could mask the symptoms and make it difficult for a vet to diagnose colic properly.
When it comes to colic, prevention is always worth the effort. Horses always need a fresh supply of hay and water. If using supplemental grain, keep it in a container that can't be easily accessed by a horse that has gotten loose in the barn overnight. Horses need plenty of exercise, though care should be given to cool them down properly before feeding and watering them.
When worming horses for intestinal parasites, it is almost always advisable to use a slow acting de-wormer first, followed by a fast acting de-wormer several weeks later. Fast-acting wormers can cause stomach problems when a large number of dead worms are introduced into the digestive tract.